I remember whole days spent at the beach, building sand castles and looking for shells. Every evening we went out for dinner, my body still feeling warm from the sun. I have fond childhood memories of my summer holidays spent in Greece.
It is one of my favourite countries in Europe and one that I will never get tired of visiting. Most tourists visiting Greece will visit one of the famous islands, but mainland Greece has just as much to offer for your holidays. This post will show you the best places to visit in mainland Greece.
The best places to visit in mainland Greece
1. The monasteries in Meteora
Meteora is among the most beautiful places to visit in mainland Greece. I visited Greece several times and it is Meteora that left its most impressive memories. Meteora is famous for having one of the most important Eastern orthodox monasteries in the world.
The name “Meteora” can be translated as “in the heavens above”, because of its unique setting. They are all built on top of rock pinnacles that dot the landscape. In fact, the area is full of volcanic rock formations that are weathered by water and wind over millions of years.
What I love most about Meteora is the combination of this beautiful setting and the possibility to look inside the monasteries to get an idea of how the monks used to live. The monasteries are now easy to reach by roads or stairs to allow tourists of all ages to visit.
This wasn’t always the case tough and most of them used to be quite isolated, built by monks choosing to live a solitary lifestyle. The website visit Meteora gives you the best information on what to see and do and how to get there.
How to get there: You can take a train from Athens to the town of Kalampaka (5 hours). Click here for more information how to get from Athens to Meteora.
2. The Oracle of Delphi
It’s been a long time ago that I visited Delphi, but I still remember the sight of the ruins. It was a clear day and we could see the Gulf of Corinth in the far distance. Delphi was revered throughout the Greek world to be the center of the universe and the oracle of the god Apollo.
The location is stunning and it used to be a hard long trek to get there. Pilgrims made their way up to seek guidance from the holy woman Pythia. Pythia was believed to reside in the oracle and speak on behalf of the gods. Her cryptic visions about the future attracted thousands of visitors. Now it is an easy bus ride from Athens, but Pythia remains silent.
How to get to Delphi: From Athens it is an easy 3 hour bus journey to Delphi.
I love history and my taste for everything old was well catered to in Athens. It is the birthplace of western civilization and one of the oldest cities in Europe. The famous Acropolis was built-in the 5th century BC on a rocky outcrop above the city. It has been the center of Greece ever since.
Throughout the years the Greeks, the Romans and the Ottomans all left behind their influences. Old ruins are everywhere. Athens is now the capital of Greece, but it’s easy to imagine yourself a princess in Roman times when you visit the ancient Agora or the Roman Forum. Furthermore the neighborhoods of Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio are full with nice restaurants.
4. Archeological sites in the Peloponnese
The Peloponnese was on the top of my list, because I wanted to see all the places I read about in my history books at school. Places such as the ancient Greek theatre in Epidaurus, the location of the first olympic games in Olympia, the palace of Mycenae and the ruins of Sparta.
I volunteered in a Greek monastery near Athens and I was able to arrange a weekend tour. In a small van we crossed the bridge over the Gulf of Corinth that connects the Peloponnese peninsula with the mainland. It took us a full day to visit Epidaurus, Mycene and the Corinth canal.
5. The mountains around Chrani, Peloponnese
In 2006 I spent another week in the Pelopennese in the small town of Chrani. Even tough I love the sea, I am actually not a person who enjoys spending day after day at the beach. The first days feel wonderful, but by the third day I get restless. The good thing about the Peloponnese is that there is enough to explore.
After two days we rented a car and drove through the mountains. We passed some old farmers on their tractors with piles of fresh vegetables in the back and drove by beautiful villages. Sometimes we stopped to watch the views, trying to capture it on our pictures, even tough we knew we couldn’t.
6. Blue waters in Koroni, Peloponnese
The Peloponnese is a peninsula and has it’s own share of beaches with blue waters and sea port towns. One of such towns is Koroni with a Venetian fortress and excellent restaurants serving fresh seafood.
It’s difficult to recommend one seaport town over the other as they all have their own charm and I think none of them will disappoint you. Koroni happened to be on our route and we had grilled fish while looking at the blue waters of the sea. Other nice towns with a port are Nafplio, Monemvasia, Kiladia and Gythio.
7. Epirus and Parga
Epirus is a mountainous region close to the border with Albania. The densely forested Pindos mountains are still the home of bears and wolves. The Vikos gorge is the deepest gorge in the world.
In addition, Parga has some crystal clear blue waters and is a charming town with its pastel coloured houses. I stayed in Parga for a week and it’s a wonderful place to relax at the beach and go hiking in the surrounding hills. Not convinced yet that Epirus is one of the best places to visit in mainland Greece, read more about Epirus in this article.
8. Quiet beaches in Nea Makri
If you are in Athens and you are looking for a secluded quiet beach not too far away, you could head to Nea Makri. I spent three weeks in Nea Makri as part of a volunteer project at the Pammacaristos Children’s Foundation with IBO-Nederland. There is honestly not too much to see in Nea Makri, but therefore there are very few tourists and the beach is nice.
What and where to eat in mainland Greece
Greek food is delicious and there is absolutely no shortage of restaurants throughout Greece. For a cheap lunch or dinner you can eat a pita gyros. A flat bread with meat, tzatziki and french fries.
If you go out for dinner you can never go wrong with the fresh Greek salads and a Souvlaki. Other traditional Greek recipies to try are Mousaka or Stifado.
How to get around in Mainland Greece
It is easy to travel by bus throughout mainland Greece and there are good bus connections between Athens and the towns in the Pelopenesse.
From Thessaloniki it is also possible to travel onwards to Istanbul in Turkey.